Saturday, October 31, 2009

Potash lands leased in Holbrook

Most of the lands underlain by potash in Arizona's Holbrook basin are private or trust lands held by the Arizona State Land Dept. Except of course, for the large block right in the center in Petrified Forest National Park.

Joe Dixon in State Land Dept. was kind enough to send us the latest lease map for the area.

There are tribal lands in the northeast and BLM lands in the southwest, but you can see the brown and blue State Trust Lands and the private lands in white dominate the area.

UA engaged in battle of the giant telescopes

There's a great feature article in last week's issue of Science that describes a 'race for the heavens' between the University of Arizona and partner's $700 million Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT, right) and the Univ. of Calif.'s $1 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). Neither proposed instrument "has come close to securing the total funding it needs."

The story contrasts the personalities and visions of the leading advocates for both instruments, Roger Angel at UA and Jerry Nelson at UC.

The GMT would link 7 monolithic mirrors, each 8.4 meters across. Angel's lab produced the two 8.4 meter mirrors used in the Large Binocular Telescope that went into operation on Mt. Graham in Arizona in 2007.

The article reports that it's too late for the two projects to be combined. Each is at different stages in fund raising, design, and implemtation, so it's too early to tell which, if either is going to be built. Science posted a podcast interview at

Friday, October 30, 2009

Data to determine water quality in Lake Powell

A new data set on water in Lake Powell and from Glen Canyon Dam, was published by the USGS this week. The purpose is so that "further interpretation may be made concerning mixing processes in Lake Powell, the movement and fate of advective inflow currents, effects of climate and hydrological variations, and the effects of the operation and structure of Glen Canyon Dam on the quality of water in Lake Powell and from Glen Canyon Dam releases."

Ref: Physical and Chemical Data for Water in Lake Powell and from Glen Canyon Dam Releases, Utah-Arizona, 1964-2008

Vernieu, William S., 2009, USGS Data Series 471

Triassic wildfires in northern Arizona - news from GSA meeting

A poster presentation at the Geological Society of America annual meeting in Portland last week presented evidence of more widespread charcoal in widely distributed Late Triassic sediments across northern Arizona. The authors, Lawrence Tanner and Spencer Lucas, conclude that wildfires were not uncommon and atmospheric oxygen levels had to have been higher than previously thought, likely at or above modern levels. [right, Triassic plant from Petrified Forest National Park. Credit, NPS]

The result is this "may be linked with the first appearance of mammals, and of pterosaurs and dinosaurs, whose evolutionary success likely resulted from their enhanced, oxygen intensive metabolisms."


TANNER, Lawrence H., Dept. Biological Sciences, Le Moyne College, 1419 Salt Springs Rd, Syracuse, NY 13214, and LUCAS, Spencer G., New Mexico Museum of Natural History, 1801 Mountain Road N.W, Albuquerque, NM 87104

Pleistocene debris flows much larger in Catalina foothills

AZGS geologist Ann Youberg's talk at the Geological Society of America annual meeting last week was at 3 pm on the last day, usually a deadly time as people bail out to catch planes home. But her room was pretty well packed, with us late arrivers filling in around the walls.

Ann reported that she and co-workers found that volume of late Pleistocene debris flows in the Catalina Mountains foothills on the north side of Tucson, are in the range of 10 million cubic meters, two orders of magnitude larger than the biggest debris flows resulting from the severe events of summer of 2006. [right, 2006 debris flow in Soldier Canyon. Credit, AZGS]

The team concluded that "climatic change between the late Pleistocene and the Holocene affected storm meteorology and seasonality thus causing changes in debris-flow initiation mechanisms, available source material, and initiation-source areas.


YOUBERG, Ann1, MAGIRL, Christopher S.2, WEBB, Robert H.3, GRIFFITHS, Peter G.3, and PEARTHREE, Philip A.4, (1) Hydrology and Water Resources, University of Arizona, 1133 E. James E. Rogers Way, Tucson, AZ 85721,, (2) U.S. Geological Survey, 934 Broadway, Suite 300, Tacoma, WA 98402, (3) U.S. Geological Survey, 520 N. Park Avenue, Suite 221, Tucson, AZ 85719, (4) Arizona Geological Survey, 416 W. Congress St, Suite 100, Tucson, AZ 85701


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Legislators push N. Arizona mineral withdrawal

A group of Arizona state legislators called today for the withdrawal of 1 million acres of federal land in northern Arizona from mining activities while hydrologic and hydrogeologic studies are carried out on the potential impacts on the regions water. Rep. Daniel Patterson of Tucson posted the letter to BLM officials on his blog today. [right, areas under consideration for withdrawal in red. Credit, BLM]

The BLM is collecting comments on the proposed withdrawal as part of the EIS process underway, following two public meetings earlier this month.

Populating the National Geothermal Data System

Energy Secretary Stephen Chu today announced that a coalition of 40 state geological surveys headed up by the Arizona Geological Survey has been selected to populate the new National Geothermal Data System with relevant state-specific geothermal data.

The Secretary announced awards totaling $338 million for geothermal energy across the country. The AZGS-led project would receive $15.7 million over 3 years. AZGS is acting on behalf of the Association of American State Geologists (AASG).

AZGS is already a partner in the Geothermal Data Coalition, based at Boise State University to design and build the National Geothermal Data System under contract to DOE. AZGS will adapt the Geoscience Information Network (GIN - to provide data discovery, access, and exchange services as a component in the developing data system. Other components include a data repository, software applications, vocabularies, data content, network communications, and web portals.

GIN is a collaboration between AASG and the U.S. Geological Survey to integrate geological survey data bases using web services and open source standards in a distributed system.

The project announced today includes the USGS and Microsoft Research as partners.

All of the dozens of other geothermal projects announced today are expected to integrate their data into the NGDS.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources

Mary Poulton, head of the University of Arizona's Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, described some of the 27 research projects today underway in the newly established Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources, funded by Science Foundation Arizona and partners. [right, Jinhong Zhang, assistant professor of mining and geological engineering, injects just a few drops of chemical into a copper collection tank to create a layer of fine bubbles. The process brings copper particles to the surface for collection]

One of the projects involves replacing the use of fresh water with non-potable effluent or brine during copper recovery from ore and "still manage the chemistry without throwing away too much of the copper."

"We think the UA is really unique in the world in terms of the depth and breadth of environmental people on campus," Mary said. "It's let us put mining into a much broader context in terms of sustainable resource development."

[Taken in part from a UA news summary]

HiRISE camera snaps Mars Phoenix Lander

The Planetary Society blog posted a wonderful series of photos from the HiRISE camera run by UA of the Phoenix Mars Lander site taken from orbit, over the past year. The lander, parachute, and heat shield are all clearly visible across the area [right]. Go to the blog itself because you can get the blown up images and see the incredible detail.

The blog also says today's story about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in the Arizona Daily Star has the most information about why the MRO has been in safe mode since late August.

Thanks to Will at The Dragon's Tale for putting me onto this.

GSA follow up: Geoarcheological data of Holocene stream terraces

At last week's annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, AZGS scientists presented a number of talks and posters on our technical work. Jill Onken and her co-authors explained how they used radiocarbon dates of archeological sites and pottery shards to constrain the ages of three Holocene terrace surfaces and relate them to ages found by soil development and historical records.

Jill's techniques were applied to the recent AZGS mapping of Holocene-aged sediments along the San Pedro River in Southern Arizona [right, AZGS]. Among the findings? - "
The age constraints provided by these archaeological materials suggest that the Qy2r fill was deposited primarily between 3500 and 1000 BP, with only a thin veneer of flood deposits added between 1000 and 100 BP."

This looks to be an important application of geoarcheology.


ONKEN, Jill1, COOK, Joseph P.2, and YOUBERG, Ann2, (1) Dept. of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Gould-Simpson Building #77, 1040 E 4th St, Tucson, AZ 85721,, (2) Arizona Geological Survey, 416 W. Congress St, Tucson, AZ 85701


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Climate change bill may get nuclear backers votes

An article in the Colorado Independent today suggests that Sen. John McCain may be willing to support climate change legislation if it includes a revival of nuclear power. The paper says there are 3 critical Senate hearings this week on the legislation and Colorado's Democratic Senator Mark Udall is calling for a bigger role for nuclear in the nation's electricity generation because of its lack of carbon dioxide production. [right, Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station]

Udall told the paper that “You can’t consider expanding nuclear power without uranium mining, but that does not mean supporting irresponsible mining. It’s important that the state — which is the delegated agency for permitting authority for uranium mining — ensures that uranium mining is done safely, responsibly and with the full input of the affected communities.”

They note that "85% of the uranium used for nuclear power production in the United States is currently imported from abroad, according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration." Colorado, like Arizona, is debating new uranium mining but also a controversial new uranium mill in western Colorado.

Copper price uncertainty in the short term but looming shortage?

A financial analysis of the global copper market predicts uncertainty in the short term but the possibility of "severe shortages and much higher prices" in the longer term.

The BNP Paribas Fortis/VM Group Metals monthly analysis for October, as reported in today, proposed that

the lack of investment in new mines and expansions in the recent past, coupled with the current capital raising difficulties being experienced by the mining industry, are paving the way for severe shortages, and much higher prices, ahead. Even if all current major planned and proposed projects come on stream, and that is a very big if, at current projected growth rates it is possible the industry could move to a small surplus in 10 years time. But with the new developments, as noted above, often in areas of far higher risk there remains the likelihood that the supply/demand situation will remain tight leading to a robust price scenario for much of the foreseeable future.
In the near term, the industry is uncertain about the rate of the U.S. economic recovery and there are concerns whether some of the Chinese demand for copper and other metals is driven by speculators. Freeport McMoRan earlier this week said it is premature for them to re-open all the mines shut down or return operating mines to full production, given so many unknowns in the marketplace.

Part of the equation on future U.S. supplies also has to hinge on whether the Arizona-based Rosemont and Resolution copper mines get approval to go into operation.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More developments on Navajo Generating Station

The Arizona Daily Star editorialized yesterday against EPA proposals to mandate expensive pollution control requirements on the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) [right] near Page, on the grounds that the technologies are not proven, the costs too high, and the benefits of only marginal value at best, while the jobs and economic value of the plant are critical to the area. The Star's position is consistent with the request made by Gov. Brewer to EPA recently, and the position taken by the Central Arizona Project which uses NGS power to pump Colorado River water along the canal to Phoenix and Tucson.

Meanwhile, the Navajo Tribal Council voted today to put Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. on leave over alleged legal violations resulting from tribal contracts. President Shirley, who has been a vocal supporter of the NGS, recently worked to have environmental groups working in opposition to the plant, thrown off the reservation. This has led to sharp divisions between tribal factions.

Testing NASA Moon-Mars vehicles near Flagstaff

NASA's Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS or D-RATS) was in the Flagstaff area last month testing out vehicles for possible use on the Moon and Mars. The team posted this video on YouTube.

Martian dust devils from HiRISE camera

New images have been released from the UA's HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, including this amazing picture of sand dunes crossed by tracks from dust devils.

[USGS Dune Database Entry (ESP_014426_2070)
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

[Thanks to Environment & Geology blog for spotting this one.]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Washington landslide photos

Our colleagues at the Washington Geological Survey have been busy with the recent massive landslides up there. I had a chance to briefly catch up with Washington State Geologist Dave Norman last week at the GSA meeting in Portland. They are in similar shape to many of us in state geological surveys - budget cuts combined with greater demand for services. Thanks to Tucson geologist Sylvia Ross at RONO Environmental for forwarding this impressive collection of slides and videos of the Washington slides:

The DNR Flickr feed ( has more photos of the Nile Landslide west of Naches. They were taken by DNR geologists who are working with WSDOT to examine the massive slide that damaged several homes and closed Highway 410. Meanwhile, CNN ( is running online updates with new video, photos and a map. Closer to home there is video from King 5 News ( and from Yakima’s KAPP-35 ( and KNDO 23 (via MSNBC - The Olympian ( reprinted a Seattle Times article about the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency for the area, while the Times ( ran a story by The Yakima Herald-Republic ( about the impact on homeowners. Stay up to date on what portions of Highway 410 are still open by checking the WSDOT website ( or signing up for the agency’s e-mail updates (

New photos show scale of Naches landslide (
Quick Report (

Saturday, October 24, 2009

ASU's Earth and Space Exploration Day

Today was Earth & Space Exploration Day at ASU in Tempe. I was remiss in not promoting this here earlier.

Great program, lots of interactive events, and a guest public lecture by space author Andrew Chaikin on "A Guided Tour of the Moon."

The Mars Education Program and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team had interactive activities for kids to explore Mars and the Moon. The ASU Robotics team had robotic arms available for use. The NASA Space Photography Lab at ASU, let visitors peruse more than a million images from solar system exploration taken over the last 40 years, including the latest pictures from the Mars Rovers, the Cassini-Saturn Orbiter, Mars Express, and the various lunar missions by NASA, Japan, and China.

[note- parts of this were modified from the ASU SESE announcement]

Groundwater study at Cyprus Tohono Mine Site

The EPA's Southwest Region office put out this press release yesterday about the Superfund site at the Cyprus Tohono mine [right, credit Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold]:
Cyprus Tohono Corporation, a former Phelps Dodge subsidiary, has agreed to fund an estimated $6 million groundwater investigation at the Cyprus Tohono Mine Site, a copper mine southwest of Casa Grande, Ariz.

The agreement requires Cyprus to thoroughly investigate the groundwater and pay future oversight costs incurred by the EPA.

'This investigation of uranium-contaminated groundwater will guide the EPA in selecting and designing a cleanup remedy that is effective at protecting human health and the environment,' said Keith Takata, the EPA's Superfund director for the Pacific Southwest region.

Currently, Cyprus, in consultation with the Tohono O'odham Nation and the EPA, is voluntarily investigating uranium-contaminated groundwater at the site. The EPA, Tohono O'odham and Cyprus will meet with Cypus to formalize the groundwater investigation on October 20.

Under EPA oversight, Cypress recently completed a $49 million cleanup, where approximately 4.4 million cubic yards of mine waste of all affected areas was placed into a lined repository with soil cover and revegetation. Seeding and vegetation growth monitoring will continue over the next three years.

The 10,505-acre copper mine is located 32 miles south of Casa Grande on the Tohono O'odham Nation near North Komelik. Mining operations on the property have occurred sporadically since the 1880s, but large-scale open-pit mining of copper oxide ore began in the 1950s, and underground mining began in 1970.

Follow the U.S. EPA's Pacific Southwest region on


and join the LinkedIn group:

Contact Information: Margot Perez-Sullivan, 415.947.4149

Freeport McMoRan issued a fact sheet in July this year about their reclamation efforts at the mine, including groundwater impacts.

Tucson's Tin Town - the mining museum you never heard of

Local geologist extraordinaire Dawn Garcia celebrated her birthday last night with a barbecue dinner for friends, neighbors, and co-workers at Tin Town, just south of the UA campus in Tucson. Tin Town hosts the most amazing collection of old mining, Western, and Arizona memorabilia you can imagine, along with thousands of other interesting objects the owners have collected over decades.

Tin Town does not advertise. They host weddings and other special events by word of mouth and will open up for private tours. The acre plus setting morphed out of an old market converted into the main house, but now includes a circus wagon, jail, mine and ore tram, and on and on, all flowing in and out of the main house. Every square inch is packed with 'stuff' and it continues overhead with every surface covered by old signs, tools hanging from pegs, and equipment stacked up on the rafters.

Even the 25-years veterans of Tucson admitted they had never even heard of Tin Town let alone tour it.

Thanks to Dawn and Kevin for hosting a great event and introducing us all to the wonders of Tin Town. You can find it at 850 East 7th Street, Tucson. You'll recognize the pink fence and walls, and the giant pieces of mining equipment that serve as avant garde art pieces along the street.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ag Sec will allow 'no action' option on Rosemont copper mine

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack withdrew a letter he sent ten days ago, and now says the US Forest Service will include the 'no action' option in the EIS process, something that he had written previously would violate existing laws. His change of opinion comes just in advance of two public meetings this weekend in the area organized by Reps Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords. The Daily Star has run prominent stories about Rosemont almost every day the past week, so large turnouts are expected.

The editorial in yesterday's Arizona (Tucson) Daily Star called on the Secretary to allow the 'no-action' option [right, credit USFS] as a way to prevent the mine from being developed.

In the run-up to a visit by Ag Dept. Deputy Under-Secretary Jay Jensen to the area this weekend, the paper has run two front-page lead stories on the mine in the past few days.

Sec. Vilsack in a letter released on Oct 14 explained the legal basis for his decision. In yesterday's editorial the paper acknowledged that Sec. Vilsack was following generally-accepted interpretation of existing laws, but called it "lock-step bureaucratic obscuration."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

McNutt confirmed by Senate to head USGS

The U.S. Senate last night confirmed Dr. Marcia McNutt to be the first woman to head the U.S. Geological Survey. She will also serve as Science Advisor to the Secretary of Interior. She will assume her duties starting November 5.

Her vitae and list of publications are posted at:



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Congressional meetings on Rosemont copper mine

The local mining community is urging supporters of the Rosemont copper mine [right, model of mine. Credit, Augusta Resources] to attend two meetings this weekend:
On Saturday, October 24, 2009, U.S. Deputy Under-Secretary of Agriculture, Jay Jensen will be visiting southeastern Arizona on a fact-finding trip to learn more about the proposed Rosemont Copper project and its impact on the local community. Mr. Jensen’s visit was requested by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Congressman Raul Grijalva, who hope to persuade the Forest Service to use a “No Action Alternative” to halt development of this important project.
The times and locations of these meetings are :

10:15 AM to 11:45 AM, Saturday, October 24
Elgin Elementary School
23 Elgin Road
Elgin, Arizona

2:15 PM to 3:45 PM, Saturday, October 24
Desert Hills Social Center
2980 South Camino del Sol
Green Valley, Arizona

Attendees are advised to RSVP by noon on October 23 to Congresswoman Gifford’s office at: (520) 881-3588 or to Word is that attendance will be heavy so early arrival is encouraged to make sure you get in.

Sen. McCain calls New Madrid seismic study wasteful

McCain Tweeted this morning, "Wasteful spending continues in Washington…so I’ve decided to resume the Top 10 earmarks of the day, starting w/ the DHS Appropriations Bill". The top example on his list is
#1. $325,000 to study seismic activity in Memphis, TN
Sen. McCain doesn't state what the study covers or who the earmark goes to but the geologists who told me about it today at the Geological Society of America meeting were not happy.

Memphis is vulnerable to earthquakes on the New Madrid fault system, which had 3 major events in 1811-12.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is mining law reform stalled in Congress?

Congress-watchers are saying that mining law reform bills are unlikely to move. Linda Rowan, Government Affairs Director for AGI, briefed the State Geologists at the GSA Annual Meeting in Portland this morning on key legislation. She keeps her finger on the pulse of dozens of bills and said the sentiment is that mining reform and offshore drilling are going to be sidetracked. [right, Morenci Mine, AZ. Credit, Freeport-McMoRan C&G]


100 more nuclear plants in the U.S.

Federal agencies are anticipating 100 new nuclear plants to be built in the U.S., bringing the nuclear percentage of electricity generation to 30%. [right, Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, AZ. Credit, Salt River Project]

That was the word in this morning's State Geologist briefing at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, by Linda Rowan, Government Affairs Director for AGI, who updated us on federal legislation and policy developments.

In related news, there is a task force looking at alternatives to Yucca Mountain as the nation's high level nuclear waste repository.


Landslide inventories - what you don't know can hurt you

Fewer than half of U.S. states have full or even partial landslide inventories, and less than 10% have active landslide programs, according to a national survey done by Oregon State Geologist Vicki McConnell. In a talk at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Portland, she found that in 35 states landslides are considered a hazard. “The inventories vary in scope and completeness from paper copies of decades-old mapping to interactive web based maps and GIS databases.” [right, national landslide map by the USGS. Note the incompleteness in Arizona, as an example of how poorly they are identified]

A decade ago, then-California State Geologist Jim Davis did a national survey to find out how many active landslides had occurred during a specific period, how much damage they did, and how many lives were lost. The data were incredibly difficult to find. Almost no one tracked it at the state level. In many areas, the information could be found only be gathering articles from small town newspapers.

The situation is not much better today. The national landslide program that the State Geologists pushed for resulted in a small internal effort in the USGS instead of a broad national cooperative effort.

I was talking with Jeff Keaton, engineering geologist extraordinaire, last night who noted that landslide inventories are crucial for local government regulatory decisions related to hazards, but the need to assess vulnerability and risk require much different information. But without the inventories to start with, it seems like we can’t get to reducing vulnerability and risk.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ian Campbell Award to Jon Price

My friend and fellow State Geologist (Nevada) Jon Price received the Ian Campbell Award last night at the Presidential Awards session at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Portland.

Minnesota State Geologist Harvey Thorleifson captured the award ceremony on his cell phone camera and posted it to YouTube, so it's pretty grainy to start but the quality improves.

UA Dean of Science and GSA Vice President Joaquin Ruiz introduces Wisconsin State Geologist Jamie Robertson who gives the citation for Jon.


Westward subduction in the Cordillera?

Tucson geologist Bob Hildebrand was autographing copies of his new book at the opening of the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Portland (Oregon) tonight. GSA Special Paper 457 is entitled "Did Westward Subduction Cause Cretaceous-Tertiary Orogeny in the North American Cordillera?" I bought a copy that Bob graciously signed.

GSA's blurb on it say,
This volume describes an iconoclastic model for the Cretaceous–Tertiary development of the Cordilleran orogen. Hildebrand argues that the orogeny was collisional in origin, caused by westerly-dipping subduction beneath an exotic ribbon continent named Rubia, and followed by development of an eastward-dipping subduction zone outboard of the collision zone. This model explains the origin of Laramide thick-skinned deformation, Cordilleran-type batholiths, early Tertiary metamorphic core complexes, Basin and Range extension, porphyry copper deposits, and the Pelona-Orocopia-Rand schists, and it helps resolve the longstanding Baja–British Columbia controversy.
Bob's very good-natured about the controversy this publication has already generated in the tectonics community. This is just the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that produces wonderful debates and helps resolve long-standing problems in the field.

A professor friend told me he intends to use the volume as a text in one his classes.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Loma Prieta earthquake - a teachable moment

My 15 seconds of fame came in the aftermath of the October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake with an interview by weatherman Al Roker on ABC's "Sunday Morning with Maria Shriver."

I had been appointed State Geologist of Utah by then Gov. Norm Bangerter, just one week earlier and was driving home from my new job when I heard the radio report of a major earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area.

Utah has some pretty serious seismic hazards, including the Wasatch fault, one of the largest and potentially destructive normal faults, that underlies most of the urbanized Wasatch Front corridor with over 80% of the state's population. But many of us worried that the lack of earthquakes in recent, historical times, was lulling the state into complacency about the risk. Loma Prieta could be one of those teachable moments, when everyone's attention was focused.

So, when we got a call saying that Al was in Salt Lake doing another story (on venomous snakes as I recall) but wanted to do a feature on earthquake hazards outside of California, I jumped at the chance.

We met at the University of Utah Seismograph Stations where they had the requisite recording drums that were a visual staple in any news story. He had me in front of a large geologic map of Utah, and in a broad arm sweep, I showed the extent of the Wasatch fault and talked about the potential for a big quake in the region. [right, Wasatch fault crossing the Salt Lake Valley - see arrow. Credit, Rod Millar, Utah Geological Survey]

Behind the camera, UUSS seismologists Jim Pechmann and Sue Nava were giving me frantic signals that I had waved my arm a bit too far south, past the end of the Wasatch fault and on to other features. But hey, this was national tv, with Al Roker and Maria Shriver!

Yes, the Loma Prieta quake was a wake up call and energized many of us in the earthquake 'community', but it wasn't until the Northridge quake of January 17, 1994, along with a moderate quake in northern Utah felt by legislators in Salt Lake City, that Utah created a seismic safety commission with a goal of identifying and prioritizing earthquake hazard reduction and mitigation actions.

Every big earthquake teaches scientists and engineers a lot more about the nature and cause of these events but they also teach all of us about what we can do to be ready for them.

Friday, October 16, 2009

List of AZGS programs to be eliminated

The Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budget this morning released the lists of state agency programs ( that would have to be permanently eliminated or reduced to meet the state’s budget shortfall. The lists would have to go to the Legislature for consideration. The cuts, if implemented, are calculated for taking effect January 1, 2010.

The Arizona Geological Survey would lose state funding to operate 11 out of a total of 24 programs. Another seven program areas would be reduced by amounts ranging from about 5% up to 50%. The programs were prioritized by an external review panel of AZGS stakeholders (data and service users) that used public input to help guide their recommendations.

Core programs we will attempt to preserve are:
Geologic Hazards
Geologic Mapping
Mineral Resources
Basin Analysis (entirely contract and grant funded).

Most of the eliminated programs have only limited state general fund support to begin with; typically a part of one or two people’s time. AZGS has raised external funds for years to subsidize state-mandated operations. We will continue to seek outside monies to underwrite these functions, but the budget scenario proposes transferring funds from external accounts as well to make up the state budget shortfall, leaving fewer options for us to fund these programs.

AZGS state-funded programs identified for elimination are:

Phoenix Branch Office
Energy Resources
Core and Sample Repository
Education, Outreach, and Tech Transfer
Enterprise Geodatabase
Earth Fissures
Information Technology Support
Website Updates

Areas taking additional cuts due to transfer of agency-generated funds are:

Energy Resources
Map and Book Store (closed for walk-in sales; mail/phone orders only)
Inquiries, Outreach, and Tech Transfer
GIS Map Production and Database Development
Information Technology Support
Technical Support for the AZ Oil & Gas Conservation Commission.

We are implementing additional cost-cutting moves now, including reducing the number of vehicles and office phones, renegotiating service contracts, and transferring staff to new contracts and grant funded projects.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day: Climate Change from the Arizona perspective

Today is Blog Action Day ’09, “an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance.” The theme for 2009 is Climate Change, the same theme as Earth Science Week in the U.S. Nearly 10,000 bloggers are participating from 150 countries.

The predicted impacts of climate change have been well described as particularly severe in the Southwestern US, with warmer temperatures, more droughts, and more episodic rainfall. For many, this still seems to be something in the far off future. But I just saw a sobering article in the journal Science that caught my attention.

Sustained CO2 levels over 400 ppm during the Miocene period about 20 million years ago, are associated with sea levels 25-40 m (80-130 ft) higher than today.

Jonathan Overpeck ("Peck"), co-director of the Univ. of Arizona's Institute for Earth and the Environment, is one of the co-authors of the 2007 IPCC study that won the Nobel Prize. He is quoted saying, "If anyone still doubts the link between CO2 and climate, they should read this paper."

The article says the study authors predict we will pass the 400 ppm level within a decade. In the Miocene, that level occurred with temperatures about 3-6C (5-11F) higher than today.

An article on BBC News, notes that the International Energy Agency expect greenhouse gases peaking at 510 ppm equivalent before stabilizing at 450 ppm. Peck however, warns that "We don't know where the critical CO2 or temperature threshold is beyond which ice sheet collapse is inevitable."

So, for all of us desert rats waiting for California to fall into the sea along the San Andreas fault, perhaps a more realistic scenario is the Gulf of California expanding northward into the state as sea level rises. Beach front property either way.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Update on the elimination of the Calif. Board on Geologists & Geophysicists

I got an email this afternoon from David E. Brown, Executive Officer of the California Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors (BPELS), updating and correcting initial information on the surprise action by Calif. to eliminate the state Board of Registration for Geologists and Geophysicist. He forwarded a report from AEG (Assoc. of Engineering & Environmental Geologists) on their work to preserve the board, and drew my attention to the discussion on page 7 that corrected earlier comments that the BPELS would not meet with AEG until after the elimination was completed. Those comments were also referenced in a blog post I did on the news.

The report describes ongoing discussions with BPELS and noted that they were as surprised as anyone about the action. AEG is a leader in working through California's political leaders to fix the situation. [right, July 11, 2009 meeting of the Big Five (l-r): Assembly Minority Leader Sam Blakeslee (R), Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D), Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Senate President pro tempore Darrell Steinberg (D), Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth (R), and gubernatorial Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy. Credit AEG, via Wikipedia]

The report says BPELS is planning a town hall meeting hear concerns about the impact of the legislation. The next BPELS’ board meeting has been rescheduled for November 18 and 19 at the Mission Inn in Riverside, Calif.

The boards of registration for geologists in other states are raising concerns that California's action may create a domino effect, because as one board director said, if California with all of its geologic hazards doesn't see the need to register geologists, why should anyone else?

My thanks to David Brown for setting the record straight and passing along this information.

Twin Buttes Ranch acquired for potash

A press release by Passport Metals this morning says they have leased the Twin Buttes Ranch in the Holbrook basin for 4 years with an option to buy it for $20 million. [right, light green tracts are ranch lands. Blue are existing Passport leases with drillholes. Federal lands in PFNP in dark green. Credit, Passport Metals] The company says the ranch encompasses some 28,526 acre, of which about 21,894 acres are underlain by potash.

The roughly 60 square mile ranch was included in the expansion of the Park approved by Congress in 2004, but money was never appropriated to buy the private lands.

Ranch owner Mike Fitzgerald has been widely quoted as expressing a willingness to sell his land but also frustration at the wait for Congress to act. He put the property up for sale last year at a reported price of $10.5 million. But around the same time the price of potash was skyrocketing from $50-100 per ton to as much as $900-1,000 on the global spot market. Companies starting picking up leases in the Holbrook basin. Then, in the Fall, AZGS released the first resource estimates of the potash deposit, showing it could hold as much as one-quarter of all the potash in the U.S. Since then, all state lands have been leased in the area and there is stiff competition for private leases and lands.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Moderate Baja quake barely felt in Yuma

USGS reports that a magnitude 4.3 quake hit northern Baja California at 8:38 am local time this morning but there have been only limited reports of it being felt in the region. It was about 75-80 km southwest of Yuma, Arizona and occurred in an area of seismicity associated with the rift and transform faults opening the Gulf of California.

Monday, October 12, 2009

USGS: rare earths reserves are adequate

A story on the advance copy of the forthcoming USGS mineral commodities report on rare earth metals was posted by reporter Dorothy Cosich on

They report that the USGS found that global rare earth metals reserves are currently sufficient to meet needs well into this century and there is a growing competitive and diverse group of worldwide suppliers.

In recent weeks, publications as diverse as the New York Times, US News & World Report, Science magazine, and Defense News have raised concerns about China's near monopoly on rare earth production while global demands for electronics and national defense are soaring. The USGS report shows that more than 90% of US imports of rare earth elements are from China.

Mineweb quotes Defense News as writing, "Now armed with its monopoly, China is jacking up prices by cutting production and exports and pressuring high-tech manufacturers to set up shop in China, where supplies are more plentiful."

But the conclusion of the USGS: "World reserves are sufficient to meet forecast world consumption well into the 21st Century."

iPhone app for Arizona geology

It was only a matter of time, I suppose, but did we really expect someone to release an application for iPhones to view the geology of the Grand Canyon State??

A company called Integrity Logic tells us they can put the geology of Arizona in the palm of your hand, for only $4.99.

The company says the 23 GIS layers that make up Geology AZ are kept in an internal database, can be moved up or down and made transparent.

Tapping an area on the phone screen can bring up additional info about the unit selected, such as lithologic description and age [right, screen shot]

[Thanks to Steve Reynolds for passing this along. One of our tech-savvy guys already had downloaded it to his phone]

Ryan Clark, one of our informatics gurus here at AZGS, has tried out the app, and reports that most of the data provided appears to be from the USGS. So, there is a potentially money-making opportunity for some entrepreneur to do a new app, using AZGS geo-data!

Alternative energy demands leading to Western water wars?

The nice thing about holidays these days, is they offer a chance to catch up on the 500+ emails waiting in my in-box. One of those I just found was an article in the New York Times from a couple weeks back forwarded by Barb Murphy at Clear Creek Associates, about the growing realization that "Many of the proposed solutions to the nation’s energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of water every year." The article likens some of the debates to a new Western water war.

That concern has not been lost on federal land management agencies, like BLM, which slowed down the land rush earlier this year, after applications for solar energy projects had been filed on millions of acres across the West.

As the battles heat up over competing interests for water rights, I wonder if we are going to hear criticisms of projects proposed by foreign energy companies. Some of the larger and more active players in solar energy projects across the region are from Spain and Germany, where the solar industry is booming.

Are we going to hear arguments against them like we do against foreign mining companies trying to develop mines in the region? For example, one of the biggest complaints about the proposed Rosemont copper mine south of Tucson is that it is owned by a Canadian company, Augusta Resources. Critics argue the profits will go out of Arizona and out of the US. Won't foreign-owned alternative energy companies be in the same boat as the debates get more heated?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tribes battle over coal and power plants

The tribes of northern Arizona (Hualapai, Navajo, Havasupai and Hopi) have all banned uranium mining on their lands but two weeks ago the Hopi Tribal Council told a number of environmental groups opposed to coal mining and coal-fired power plants to leave the reservation.

Indian Country Today reports the Hopi Tribal Council said the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, Grand Canyon Trust, and “on-reservation organizations sponsored by or affiliated with the groups, are no longer welcome on the reservation.”

Environmental groups on the reservation blasted back accusing the Council of being illegitimate and in the pockets of big corporations.

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. supported the Hopi Council's decision, saying the environmental groups threatened the survivial of the Navajo people by pushing to close down the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona [right. Credit Salt River Project]. USA Today reports that the power plant provides more than 70% of the Hopi Nation's government revenues.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

UA research offers hope for oxygen, life in Europa's oceans

New research by UA planetary scientist Richard Greenberg about the liquid ocean suspected to lie below the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, suggests that "there may be plenty of oxygen available in that ocean to support life, a hundred times more oxygen than previously estimated."

In a talk yesterday at a meeting of the Div. for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, in Puerto Rico, Greenberg described the basis for his conclusions that "the concentrations would be great enough to support not only microorganisms, but also “macrofauna”, that is to say more complex animal-like organisms which have greater oxygen demands. The continual supply of oxygen could support roughly 3 billion kilograms of macrofauna, assuming similar oxygen demands to terrestrial fish."

Behind the scenes documentary of Phoenix Mars mission

A second documentary about last years UA-lead-Phoenix Mars Mission will be broadcast on PBS next Tuesday, Oct. 13 (9 pm locally here in Tucson). The film, "Phoenix Mars Mission: Onto the Ice" picks up where the first film left off, just after the launch of the spacecraft.

[right, the HiRISE image of the lander and parachute. Credit, NASA/JPL/University of Arizona]

Geothermal data project underway

The project to build a digital National Geothermal Data System was launched this week, following extensive consultation with the US Dept. of Energy. AZGS is a partner in the 5-year, $4.9 million project, which is being managed by the Intermountain West Geothermal Center at Boise State U. in Idaho. [right, geothermal map of North America. Credit, SMU/AAPG]

AZGS is the lead in developing the Geoscience Information Network or GIN, a collaboration among the Association of American State Geologists, the U.S. Geological Survey, and a growing group of industry and government partners. GIN will serve as the data discovery, access, and data exchange and integration mechanism for NGDS.

President Obama said in May that the NGDS would serve as the respository for all the data and results for $375 million worth of stimulus-funded geothermal projects nationwide that are expected to be announced shortly. This has required some rethinking of how and how quickly to get NGDS functioning and deployed.

Budget cut plans

We submitted our plans to the budget office last night, to cut the state appropriation by 30% starting in January. These are still just recommendations to the Governor, so until they are made public, we are not at liberty to discuss the details. But we did follow closely the recommendations of the external panel that convened last Tuesday to review all AZGS programs and operations. The panel met with program managers, reviewed the last four years of work by the Survey, and considered the results of the online survey of programs that so many of you filled out.

AZGS Extension Service chief Mike Conway has compiled the results of the more than 200 surveys completed and shown how each program fared in pie diagrams [right, an example of the poll results on the Bedrock Geologic Mapping Program].

We'll post the decisions of the Governor's budget office when they are made public, which is expected to happen quickly.

Thanks to all of you who took the poll and the surprising number of folks who added comments, suggests, and ideas. We'll be following up on these in the coming days.

I also want to thank the external panel members who took a day out of their already busy schedules to give us the benefits of their experience and expertise: Bill Greenslade, chair, representing the Arizona Chapter of AIPG; Ken Fergason, with AMEC, representing the Arizona Section of Association of Engineering & Environmental Geologists; Kevin Horstman, consultant and president of the Arizona Geological Society; Alan Dulaney, City of Peoria and president of the Arizona Hydrologic Society; Steve Trussell, executive director of the Arizona Rock Products Association, Eric Mears, Brown & Caldwell; Don Hammer, consultant; Wes Ward, retired USGS; and Dick Ahern, US Forest Service. They did a remarkable job sythesizing a lot of information and invaluable guidance.

We've all been heartened with the community involvement in helping us make some very difficult decisions. In the end, we hope we will have taken the actions that will be in the best interests of our stakeholders, the citizens of Arizona, and the State.

Bridge over Colorado River at Hoover Dam

The bridge over the Colorado River, immediately below Hoover Dam is making great strides. I've received multiple sets of spectacular photos but without anyone sure where they came from, so I can't attribute them.

The bridge will link Arizona and Nevada via Highway 93 and avoid the painfully slow drive across the dam to get across the river. Developers are expecting tens of thousands of new residents in northwest Arizona once the bridge is complete. That is going to increase demand for water and energy in the region.

According to the posts being circulated:

Creeping closer inch by inch 900ft above the Colorado River the two sides of a $250 million bridge at the Hoover Dam is slowly taking shape.

The bridge will carry a new section of US Route 93 past the bottleneck of the old road which can be seen twisting and winding around and across the dam itself.

When complete, it will provide a new link between the states of Nevada and Arizona. In an incredible feat of engineering, the road will be supported on the two massive concrete arches which jut out of the rock face.

The arches are made up of 53 individual sections each 24ft long which have been cast on-site and are being lifted into place using an improvised high-wire crane strung between temporary steel pylons.

The arches will eventually measure more than 1,000ft across. At the moment, the structure looks like a traditional suspension bridge. But once the arches are complete, the suspending cables on each side will be removed.

Extra vertical columns will then be installed on the arches to carry the road. The bridge has become known as the Hoover Dam bypass, although it is officially called the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial bridge, after a former governor of Nevada and an American Football player from Arizona who joined the US Army and was killed in Afghanistan.

Work on the bridge started in 2005 and should finish next year. An estimated 17,000 cars and trucks will cross it every day.

Minor quake in NW Arizona

A moderate 3.9 magnitude earthquake on Friday afternoon was felt by residents of northwest Arizona and the Boulder City area of Nevada (19 miles away).

The event occurred Friday, October 09, 2009 at 03:13:54 PM local time at the epicenter.

Historically, there have not been many earthquakes recorded in the immediate area, although the area to the northwest has been more active.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

McNutt's testimony at Senate confirmation hearing for USGS Director



Marcia K. McNutt

As nominee for the position of

Director of the U.S. Geological Survey

Before the

Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Of the

United States Senate

October 8, 2009

Chairman Bingaman, Senator Murkowski, distinguished members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I am honored to come before you as President Obama’s nominee for Director of the US Geological Survey. I am excited about this opportunity to join Secretary Salazar’s team at the Department of the Interior, especially now, when the nation’s need for timely information on natural hazards, environmental and climate change, and water, energy, biological, and other natural resources has never been greater.

My inspiration for dedicating my life to the Earth sciences comes from having lived in some of the most beautiful landscapes that America has to offer: the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the sandy beaches of La Jolla and Cape Cod, and now John Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven above Monterey Bay. I always knew I wanted to be a scientist, but even when I was young I could never picture myself in a lab coat with a test tube.

I majored in Physics at Colorado College, but my favorite college course was Introduction to Geology, taught by Professor John Lewis. Colorado College uses the block plan in which students only take one course at a time for a month. Introduction to Geology is two blocks long. So my first two months at college were spent with Doc Lewis and about 19 other students scrambling around the Front Range with our back packs and sleeping bags trying to piece together the geologic history of the Southern Rockies from first principles. We never cracked a book the entire time. I was drawn to the grandeur of the Earth sciences and awed by the time and space scales upon which Earth processes played out. No lab coat. No test tube. Science outside!

Once I arrived at graduate school at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, I switched fields from Physical Oceanography to Marine Geophysics because plate tectonics was revolutionizing the geosciences. With the vast majority of plate boundaries under the ocean, marine geophysicists would be the ones to put the pieces of the theory together. Entering the field at that time was like becoming a biologist right after Darwin wrote Origin of the Species or becoming a physicist right after Einstein wrote the Special Theory of Relativity. Old papers, textbooks, and theories were suddenly rendered irrelevant, such that there was no large body of prior knowledge to be absorbed. Observations had to be reinterpreted within the context of the new framework. Major marine expeditions were led, and often staffed entirely, by my fellow graduate students and myself, because many of the more senior practitioners in the field were too slow to embrace the new paradigm. It was a heady time filled with the excitement of scientific discovery. Science at sea!

I credit the US Geological Survey for giving me my first “real” job after receiving my PhD. I spent three wonderful years in the Office of Earthquake Studies in Menlo Park, California, calibrating the strength of plates on time scales relevant to the earthquake generation process. Working on the earthquake problem, in California, gave me my first taste of what it was like to be involved in research of interest to the general public, not just my fellow scientists. This was science people use! I also benefitted from this time at the GS in that I can still appreciate the culture of the organization from the viewpoint of someone who has spent time “down in the trenches,” and yet the intervening years away allow me to bring a fresh perspective to the organization.

The majority of my career has been spent at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I served on the faculty in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences for 15 years, and was eventually awarded an endowed chair. I enjoyed being surrounded every day by some of the brightest young minds in the country, engaging them in forefront research problems, and watching them grow intellectually each day. My favorite part about MIT was serving as a freshman advisor and hearing the personal stories of the students each September. Many represented the first generation in their families to attend college. Whether they had come from the barrios of San Antonio or the plains of North Dakota, the one thing they shared was the fact that they had earned their place in the MIT freshman class by their own effort. And back home, an entire community was cheering them on.

My research took me and my students all over the planet: to the islands of French Polynesia, the Tibet Plateau, Iceland, Siberia, and Antarctica. At MIT I learned how to do what really counts, how to find, measure, and nurture excellence, and to become ridiculously efficient at multi-tasking. Equally importantly, I developed a complete intolerance for sloppy science and anything but the highest ethical standards.

My most recent posting for the last 12 years has been as the President and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, better known as MBARI. MBARI is an oceanographic research institution founded by David Packard and privately funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. With its emphasis on peer relationships between scientists and engineers and encouragement of high-risk research and technology development, MBARI is best described as a “NASA for the oceans,” albeit at a smaller budget scale. This latest position has given me ample experience in leadership, management, and administration, as well as considerable opportunity to familiarize myself with issues and opportunities in environmental chemistry and biology.

In looking back at my time at MBARI, I believe I have left a mark on several aspects of institute operations. First, teamwork. Across science, engineering, marine operations, outreach programs, and administrative areas, everyone functions as a well-oiled team. To a person, everyone understands that the reason we exist is to support the research mission and to make it progress smoothly and flawlessly. Second, our mission. I helped redirect MBARI from a broadly constituted portfolio in basic research to a more targeted set of socially relevant topics such as ocean acidification, eutrophication, methane hydrates, and harmful algal blooms, nearly a decade before they became common buzzwords. Finally, the staff. I am proud of the people I have hired, their work ethic, and their commitment to Packard’s founding vision of how a different kind of institution can truly make a difference.

You may all be wondering why I would consider leaving such a scientific paradise and relocating from my beloved Pastures of Heaven at this time. This nation is facing important decisions concerning future uses of its precious resources: water, energy, and environment. We are increasingly at economic risk from natural hazards. The challenges associated with climate change must be better understood. Submarine areas under US control out to the 200 mile limit are equal to the subaerial land area of this great nation, and yet the seabed resources have yet to be explored and inventoried. In deciding how best to move forward, our leaders, including members of Congress, the President, and the Secretary of the Interior, need sound, unbiased, scientific advice. Science is not the only factor in decision making, but it needs to be one of the factors. The USGS has long-term records and scientific expertise that can be used for making good choices based on solid data, and can look into the geologic record to determine whether recent conditions are likely to be representative of the future. Now, more than ever before, the nation needs the USGS, and I would be proud, if confirmed, to lead this effort.

So, in summary, these are the skills and qualities I would hope to bring to the leadership of the US Geological Survey, if confirmed:

- The capacity to be inspired by the natural world

- A love for science outside

- An appreciation for the culture of the US Geological Survey

- A history of association with some of the finest research institutions in the nation

- The ability to recognize and nurture excellence

- High ethical standards

- An aptitude for leadership

- Experience in team building

- A track record for asking the right scientific questions

Thank you for the opportunity to come before you, and I look forward to this challenge, should you confirm me for this position.

[thanks to Alaska State Geologist Bob Swenson for passing this along]

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

CO2 well finds impermeable reservoir

The 3,853' deep well drilled near Cholla Power Plant [right] on the Colorado Plateau failed to find enough permeability at total depth to make it a viable reservoir to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) from power plants in the region. The drilling project web site indicates the well bottomed in Precambrian granites.

The WestCarb consortium, including Arizona Public Service, is planning another exploratory well at a site to be determined, and pending approval of the US Dept. of Energy which funded much of the experiment. WestCarb noted that the well did confirm high salinity water in the target formation and suitable cap rock, both requirements for CO2 sequestration reservoirs.

Poll results - rating AZGS programs

Yesterday our external panel met to review AZGS programs to give us guidance on what programs to put forward for permanent elimination to meet the State's budget shortfall. The 9 representatives of geoscience professional societies, trade groups, and community sectors, met with program managers and section chiefs, toured the facilities, and quizzed us all on our programs and accomplishments.

One set of materials they considered were the results of the online poll AZGS has conducted for the past week and half to solicit the opinions of the people who use our data and services. As of Sunday, 183 participants had completed the poll, with more than half providing additional comments. We will compile all these results and post on the AZGS website, but in the interim, here is a summary graph showing the average ranking of each of the 24 programs we broke out. The rankings go from 1= not important to 5 = very important.

We are taking all these comments and recommendations to prepare our budget reduction plan fo the Governor's Office of Strategic Planning & Budget by Friday. The plans from all state agencies are expected to be made publicly shortly after they are gathered and reviewed. We will be able to talk in more detail about our planned cuts once the Governor's office releases them.

We really appreciate everyone who took the poll, offered comments, and provided ideas. Your assessments are truly guiding how we proceed.

One change we made quickly is to break the Energy and Mineral Resources program into two separate programs. The panel yesterday evaluated them independently.

We'll you posted on developments.